Michael Joyce's Afternoon does not simply tell us a story -- it involves us in all its intimacies, shares with us the tensions and embroils us in its disorientating world. For the reader, it is more akin to Alice being whipped into Wonderland, than a lazy afternoon read by the porch -- but also so much more satisfying.
Afternoon makes full use of the Storyspace medium and creates a series of stories within a story -- neither really complete without the other but yet able to exist on its own. The reader is plunged into the consciousness of the characters, and constantly gets the feeling of intrusion; almost like a peeping tom peering into the naked minds of the characters. The experience (to merely label it a story seems somehow inadequate) brings us into multiple readings that constantly loop back and forth, traversing the hundred over lexias in an order that is both deliberate and random - deliberate because Joyce obviously created the avenues for us to explore, and random because we are given the option to choose which avenue to explore. At the end however, I feel that the element of choice is simply a clever illusion. No single reading of Afternoon would satisfy any discerning reader, and before we know it, we are entangled in the web that Joyce weaves around us. Before the afternoon has past, we find ourselves compelled to follow all possible avenues and are drawn into the lives of Lolly and Wert in an intimate experience.
The loop back technique that is enabled by the Storyspace medium created a fascinating and yet strangely frustrating experience for me. On the one hand, like a jigsaw puzzle, I find that every time I encounter a lexia that I had already come across, a piece of the puzzle falls into place. Yet whenever I find myself caught in a loop, I'd feel trapped by the need to get out of that loop and explore further, and to delve deeper.
Afternoon re-examines the notion of the reader and that of the writerly vs. the readerly text. Almost every person differs in the reading of the text in some way -- and each person navigates the options in a uniquely personal manner, opening unique perspectives on the text based on ones experience and choice. An entirely different reading of the text is constantly achieved -- even if the difference is simply on one lexia. It can throw a completely different light on the text. This loops back to my earlier point that no single reading of the text may be considered complete, and even multiple readings do not necessarily show the whole picture.
It should however be noted that authorial control is by no means absent. Joyce has brilliantly created a story that appears to exist only as how the reader wants to see it -- but we should always remember that the story really exist in Joyce's imagination and creation. We are just navigators within the story, albeit how we read the story does depend very much on ourselves. The brilliance of the text lies in the ability to convincingly create the illusion that the reader is in complete control of the text, when in actuality I would argue that the text, in presenting the reader his options, is still very much limited within itself. We cannot go beyond the lexias that Joyce has set, but in giving us the ability to navigate freely through a large part of it, Joyce has created a piece that is as close to a writerly text as is conceiveable.